Wednesday, December 2, 2015


He came onto the veranda while I was sleeping. The dog started up a racket when she saw his face looking through the window. A kindly face, blue eyes, crowded with whiskers. He yelled, “Gidday! Having a nap are ya?”

Bloody hell, and now I had to get out of bed, put some pants on and be sociable. It was midday, after all.

He introduced himself. His surname. Ahh. He’s from one of the old families in the area. Highways and lakes and gravel tracks are named after his folk. East, my more familiar country, is mostly named after his family’s cousins. It is a name borne of the Scots; of meadows and meres and of the men who husbanded them. Then they trod sea paths to the antipodes where they took a good chunk of the south west real quick.

I did feel a bit like a blackfella checking out some neighbour’s skin. I should have asked him his original clan. From a Scot who is rapidly running out of male heirs, and relying on mother maiden names to keep up our lineage, I’m interested in how this family can keep their name in this region for so long. How did they do that? Possibly by being matrilineal Scots. There must have been a few women who’ve passed on their surname to their oldest son as his middle name on birth certificates and gotten away with it.

Sorry, I digress. It’s fun but let’s pursue that one later.

I put my pants on, opened the door and made him a cup of coffee. He didn’t quite have the profile of the noble colonial but his grandparents built the hut he was staying in, he explained. “The one on the corner, with the big table.”
It’s a really big table, he said, because pricks steal everything around here that isn’t nailed down.
Someone stole his last table. It was where he liked to sit outside and think. He came back one day and it was gone. So he built a really big table, with tree stumps for legs and a clean slice of marri as the table top and big mother fuckers of bolts to hold it all together.

He complained about the commercial fishers taking all the fish and my thoughts were akin to Old Salt’s. Well, you obviously don’t know how to catch fish then. He shook my hand after he’d shaken out his cup and said, it’s really nice to meet you. 
That night we both set nets. He was back in the morning.

He walks with his thumbs against his body.
“How many fish didja get?”
He’d caught two herring.
‘Four herring, a sea mullet and a yellow eye.’ (Fist pump) The time of day or night that I finally pulled up my net has nothing to do with anything.

He asked if he could borrow my book. I was a bit twitchy about this transaction as I handed it over because it is my own copy, with signatures of the people mentioned in the book scrawled all over the back page. It’s quite a precious copy of Salt Story but I thought, with a name like his, I could find him anywhere.


  1. My dad inherited his mother's name as his middle name. Kinda cool - John 'Jackson' Chrisp. Maybe it is a Scots thing, or northern English/Irish. She was a redheaded Irish woman but her husband was Scottish/Yorkshire.

    Nice story Sarah. I know what you mean about loaning special books. I loaned a soft-cover copy of my thesis to a close friend - the version with comments from readers in the back - and she just won't give it back. Grrrr.....

  2. I think it is a Scot thing Michelle, all the men on my father's side have their mother's maiden name as their middle name. I like it. A way for women to keep their lineage, albeit for one generation.
    Good luck with your book x

  3. I work on genealogy as a hobby. I have a lot of Scotch Irish in my lines - people who moved through the Cumberland Gap from Virginia to Kentucky or Tennessee between 1790 and 1820. I have noticed that many of men from that time were given their mother's maiden name for a middle name. I gave my daughter my maiden name as a middle name, too. It seemed like the right thing to do. It made my Dad happy, which was nice, but I did not really do it for him. I did it for me.